The video for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s new song “Otis” off their album “Watch the Throne” has the duo mutilating a Maybach 57, in what seems to be a statement against vulgarity and conspicuous consumption – something that the old Jaguar XJ series stood firmly against. The flagship Jag retained the same shape (and many of the same styling cues) for a whopping 41 years, a figure made even more astonishing considering that the very upper end of the luxury sedan market is extremely fickle, and the three German luxury brands have religiously altered their big sedans to suit changing tastes.
|1. Supersport models come equipped with a 510-hp supercharged 5.0L V8 capable of a 0-60 time of 4.7 seconds.
2. Extended wheelbase models add nearly 5-inches between the wheels for a significantly larger rear seat area.
3. A 1,200-watt Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system is optional with 20 speakers.
4. Starting at $72,700 the XJL Supersport retails for $113,200.
Carrying the same design forward for nearly four decades may have worked for the Porsche 911, but eventually, Jaguar’s luck ran out. And while Porsche’s reputation for quality and performance helped it stay afloat (not to mention building the best sports cars on the road) Jaguar carried the millstone of poor reliability and stuffy British sensibilities. No matter what your socioeconomic background, you could always think of someone you knew who owned a Jaguar that was in the shop more than on the road.
STUNNING NEW LOOK
The year 2009 brought about the end of the Jaguar XJ’s long evolution through the primordial soup, and the car finally transformed from temperamental feline into one of the boldest looking cars on the road. The design has the perfect juxtaposition of boxy brawn and organic curves, while the sloping roofline avoids the cliché German-style aping of the Mercedes-Benz CLS. Instead, it looks almost French, with a gentle trunk tacked on to the rakish roofline ala the Citroen C6.
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The XJ manages to attract a disproportionate amount of attention for a car that’s been on sale for some time now. We even got curious exotic car owners coming up to us while parking in trendy districts, rushing up to our open driver’s side window and inquiring about “the new Jag limo”.
LIGHT WEIGHT AND POWERFUL
Underneath the striking exterior is a highly advanced (but equally costly) aluminum chassis, a weight saving measure that also allows cash-poor Jaguar to have access to a lightweight but modular platform for vehicles of different sizes. While 4,220 lbs isn’t light by most standards, it undercurrents a Ford Taurus SHO by a couple hundred pounds, not to mention its direct rivals like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the significantly-smaller Maserati Quattroporte.
The svelte weight is even more impressive in light of the larger-than-life way the XJ goes about its business. The extended wheelbase car measures nearly 207 inches in length, almost five inches longer than a Cadillac Escalade. Power comes from a 5.0L V8 with a supercharger, making 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque. Some outlets have seen times as low as 4.3 seconds to 60 mph – putting the XJL Supersport in a league with genuine sports cars. We never got bored of stomping on the throttle and watching the big cat leap. We even managed to squeeze 20.5 mpg in mixed driving over the course of a week, an impressive figure from such a massive powerplant.
Even though the XJL occupies a lot of physical space, it feels like it weighs have of what it does. Thanks to the aluminum construction and Jaguar’s wonderful chassis engineers, the XJL can be flung every which way into corners while responding with complete composure. Fast sweepers and highway ramps become a challenge in exceeding your own personal capabilities, as the abundant torque and engaging chassis dare you to take turns at unfathomable speeds.
Establishing any performance car bona fides is almost superfluous, as the XJL really shines when someone else is driving you around. The opulent cabin, finished in your choice of butter soft hides, lets passengers stretch their legs completely in the rear seat, while fold-down tray tables seemingly nicked from a Cathay Pacific first-class cabin are available for resting your blue fin tuna tartar as you take in the latest issue of Barron’s.
The middle seat arm rest can be folded down to bisect the rear seat (in case you tire of being in proximity to your companion) and features a number of compartments (including a cigar holder) lined in purple velvet. The wood extends throughout the cabin, and might as well be “reclaimed” wood from a plutocrat’s now-seized yacht. The door panels are outfitted with solid blocks of dark mahogany with some sort of feline inlay design, while another bow of wood stretches from just aft of the A-Pillar, all the way around the inner lip of the windshield and back around. Producing this piece likely costs more than the GDP of Guinea-Bissau, but what good is consumption if it’s not conspicuous?
The poor shmucks sitting up front will have to contend with plush wing-chair-like front seats with available massagers, as well as the controls to the 1200 Watt Bowers & Wilkins stereo system – another frightfully British touch that we enjoyed immensely. Using “Watch The Throne” as a demo, we cranked the volume up high and reveled in the rich piano samples and thumping bass provided by the B&W unit, although its clarity will be lost on those who favor Mercedes-Benz S550s with trunk-thumping subwoofers.
Meanwhile, most controls can be operated through a substantial touch screen unit in the dash. While other Jaguars are saddled with a crude, obsolete bits of technology, the newest Jaguar interface (which we expect to be made standard eventually) is highly intuitive and easy to operate. Tasks such as iPod integration and Bluetooth setup, which are normally glitch-ridden and infuriating, all worked on the first try.
Perhaps the XJL hasn’t strayed too far from Sir William Lyons original mandate for Jaguar vehicles that they possess “grace, pace and space”. While purists justifiably cried foul when BMW radically altered its styling direction, Jaguar has managed to do an aesthetic 180 degree turn and still come out on the winning side. In terms of luxury and build quality, we wouldn’t hesitate to put it up against a Bentley Flying Spur (which is already vulgar in its own right), while performance is easily on par with offerings from AMG or Alpina. Styling is a subjective matter, but based on anecdotal evidence, it causes a serious visual impact. And while $110,200 isn’t a paltry sum, it manages to undercut comparable rivals by as much as $18,000 in some cases.
While Jaguar still has its own kind of prestige, it will forever be an alternative choice in the segment, simply because it’s not a BMW or Mercedes-Benz. The new Audi A8 is riding a crest of enthusiasm for the brand itself, and will surely gain a loyal following from the type of status-hungry, instant gratification types who criminally ignored the superb iterations that sold in miniscule volumes prior to the 2011 A8 in favor of the S-Class or 7-Series. Jaguar has a bit of an image problem in the sense that people are impressed by a Jag, but they just don’t know how good the XJ really is.